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Duchenier; or, the Revolt of La Vendée

By John Mason Neale

London: SPCK, 1905.
First published London: J. Masters, 1848.

Chapter XXVII.

OH, what a moment was that, when Duchenier, after committing the prisoners to the care of the Commissioners, excused himself to them on the plea of urgent business, and hurried to the Barrière du Trône! It was ten o'clock when he knocked at the door; in another moment Marie was in his arms. As he held her in the joyful certainty that all danger was now over, he could hear the beating of her heart in her eager agitation to learn his news.

"Thank GOD, thank GOD, Marie, it is all safe now! you know not what a danger we have escaped." And, leading her into the drawing-room, he told her all that had passed during his absence.

"What do we not owe to Texier!" said Marie at length. "Had it not been for his patient watching in Paris, and his determination to remain by me to the last, we should not now have been seated together, Charles. And he had almost saved my poor father, too; but GOD willed it otherwise."

"We must persuade him, love, to go with us to England for awhile; this storm will not last for ever. And Dreux, too, we must provide for in some way."

And so they talked for some half-hour longer, the silence deepening and deepening around them; and every additional moment giving further security that all popular commotion was over. The worthy tradesman Corday, after a. preliminary knock, came in to say that he had received a message from Dreux to the effect that he had been much complimented by the Convention for his intrepidity, and had the promise of some official place in the hall; and that he was one of the guards appointed over Robespierre and the other leaders of the Terrorists.

Duchenier thanked the good man for all his kindness; and begged him to think in what way he might serve him best.

"Bien obligé, monsieur. I promise you, if ever I need any little assistance, not to forget your offer. There is the half-past ten; it is high time to be shutting up the house. Good-night, monsieur; good-night, madame."

And "Good-night, dear Marie," said Duchenier with a smile, when their worthy hostess entered the room to conduct her to her apartment.

Our scene still lies in that comfortable little drawing-room; but we must go on a few hours.

It was a bright blue morning; a fresh breeze tempered the excessive heat; a few fleecy clouds sailed across the sky; it was one of those spring-like days that sometimes occur in the middle of summer. The table was spread for breakfast; Duchenier was looking from the open window, when Corday entered. We should remark, that the bow-window at which Duchenier was standing, though not looking directly on the Barriere du Tr6ne, yet sideways commanded a view of the new guillotine.

"It will be an awful sight, monsieur," said the gingerbread-factor, after giving good-morning to his guest. "They say that there will be such a crowd to see Robespierre beheaded as Paris never turned out before."

"He is condemned, then?" inquired Charles.

"They would not admit him to the bar, monsieur; they sentenced him as an outlaw without a hearing."

"What time is it to be?" inquired Duchenier.

"At half-past ten, they say, monsieur; but they will never get down here by then.--Good-morning madame," as Marie entered the room.--"They say, monsieur, that there is a general amnesty to be proclaimed at once; and even already people are beginning to recover their spirits. But I will not keep you from breakfast."

"Dearest," said Duchenier, when that meal was over, "there is one awful thing more that must happen; and then, I trust, there will be some peace for France."

"One awful thing more?--Oh, what is it?"

"Robespierre," said her husband, looking very grave, "is to be executed this morning; and they say the concourse of people to see him die will be somewhat tremendous. I almost wonder he is alive still. I did not tell you last night, because you had enough to terrify and shock you; but GOD visited those wretched men with no ordinary visitation."

"How do you mean?" asked his bride, turning pale.

Duchenier told her the principal circumstances; and they then sat together for nearly two hours, finding a mournful pleasure in going over the past again and again, and gilding the future with all the fancied (and to them, in the course of years, realised) sunshine of hope. Towards eleven o'clock, however, an indistinct murmur was heard in the direction of the Fauxbourg S. Antoine; and gradually the shouts and execrations of a mob came more and more distinct on the ear.

"That must be the procession," said Duchenier gravely. "It is an awful thing, dearest," for Marie trembled excessively; "but it is the last, and it is necessary."

"Cannot I go into some other room?" she inquired in a faint voice.

"The back rooms are quite as much open to the Place as the front. You had better sit down on the sofa, love; you cannot possibly see anything there. We must not shut the shutters, or the mob may think that it is a mark of sorrow for Robespierre."

Duchenier led her to the sofa, soothed her by a few tender words, and then walked to the window. The shouts grew louder and louder; there were groans, hisses, yells, shouts of derision, of mockery, of execration,--a perfect tempest of popular excitement. Slowly, very slowly, the car moved forward; at last it entered the Place, and the clamour grew louder" and the execrations more brutal. Robespierre, Henriot, Couthon, the younger Robespierre, Saint Just, all grievously wounded, lay huddled together in the bottom of the vehicle; and when it stopped at the foot of the guillotine one long, loud, universal shout of applause rent the air.

"What is that?" asked Marie, fearfully.

"They are going to take them up the scaffold."

Marie fell on her knees and endeavoured to bury her face as much as might be in the cushions of the sofa.

A minute more passed; then Duchenier covered his eyes with his hands; and there came, amidst the most profound silence on the part of the mob, a wild, piercing and most unearthly shriek of agony. The executioner had led Robespierre to the slide.

"Come," said that functionary, "we can't get on so; you must take that rag off."

Robespierre shook his head, and pointed to his jaw.

"I'm not going to have my steel blunted for that, citoyen: come, I'll do it for you."

He tore off the towel; the shattered jaw dropped; and then it was that the wretch uttered that horrible yell.

A minute after, and the quick rattle of the guillotine was heard.

"Look up, dearest," said Duchenier, crossing the room to his bride, "it is over now; Robespierre is dead!"

It was a lovely evening in June, that, descending the sweet range of the Gatines, I sauntered on towards the little village spire that seemed to point out a resting-place for the night. That day with break of morning I had started from Chantonnay; but many a fair church had delayed me, and I feared that night might close in around me ere I could extricate myself from the intricate lanes of that part of Poitou. Now no such fear; and, tightening the straps of my knapsack a little, I stepped more briskly onwards into the valley.

"Has monsieur come far?" asked an old peasant whom I met on the narrow bridge that crosses the valley stream.

"From Chantonnay, mon ami. But will you tell me what is the name of the village which I see yonder?"

"Cerisay," said he.

"Shall I find an auberge there, where one might get a night's lodging?"

"I fear not," he answered; "but the priest will take you in, I doubt not."

"I must trespass on his hospitality, then, I am afraid. Good-night."

"Good-night, monsieur. Be sure to turn to the left at the Grange Neuve."

To the left accordingly I turned, and some ten minutes more brought me to the great gates of the avenue that led to the chateau. As I was passing them a venerable-looking old gentleman, but tall and strong for his apparent age, came down from the village and turned up towards them.

"You are a stranger to our parts, monsieur?" he asked, with a polite bow.

"Perfectly, monsieur. Till the last ten days I knew nothing of La Vendée."

"You are English too, I see. I owe much to your country. Are you going much farther to-night?"

"Only to the village, if I can find lodging there."

"Oh! that you will not do. Mine host of the Coq Blanc sells good wine; but as to a bed, I dare say he has never been asked for such a thing. No, no; you must take a bed at the chateau to-night; I will have the honour of showing you the way thither."

With all suitable acknowledgments, I followed my new friend; and was soon given in charge to an old servant, who seemed to officiate as a kind of major-domo.

"Let monsieur have everything he wants, Texier; and then show him into the drawing-room."

Into the drawing-room accordingly the old servant in process of time ushered me; and there, coffee having been just served up, I found my worthy host, a very pleasant old lady, evidently the mistress of the house, and a fair girl, whose likeness to the latter amply proved her relationship as granddaughter.

"Monsieur," said the lord of the mansion, "let me introduce you to Madame Duchenier. My granddaughter, Louise."

After a few civil speeches, "Now, monsieur," said M. Duchenier, "your walk over the hills must, or ought to, have given you an appetite; and my cook, who has been in England, is very busy with what she calls some veritable rosbif à l'Anglais, and what I hope you will find something of an approximation to a beef-steak."

The promised dish was brought in; and, though M. Duchenier and I might disagree as to the resemblance to the English steak, by the time I had finished the meal his kindness, and that of the lady of the house, made me feel completely at home.

"That is a copy from Vernet's picture of the attack on Nantes, is it not?" I asked, looking at one which hung over the chimney-piece.

"It is," answered my host. "I can testify to its fidelity, for I was there myself."

"Were you indeed, monsieur?" And I asked with so much interest, that he smiled, and said--

"Yes; our early lot was cast in troublesome times, was it not, Marie? One way or the other, my wife and I were engaged in, or spectators of, a good many of the stirring events in La Vendée, and in Paris too."

One question and reply led on to others; and that evening M. Duchenier related to me a good part of the tale the reader has finished.

"I have read a Jewish proverb," he said, "'When Israel is in the brick-kiln, then cometh Moses.' And so it was with us. Few had darker clouds at the outset of their life; few more uninterrupted sunshine afterwards. And here we live, you see, quite in a patriarchal manner; our children settled at short distances around us, and one or other of their little ones constantly with us. But you really must not think of going for a day or two, monsieur. To-morrow, Louise here--she is quite a chronicler of the place--shall show you all the spots round that are connected with our history; where De Cailly drove us back,--where La Force made his way in,--and all the rest of it. Will you not, Louise?"

"That I will gladly," she said.

And so she did.

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